x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Surprises in the dark in Jordan

Astrid, my 19-month old daughter, was sat in the back of the car warbling happily to herself, yet I was racked with worry. What would the hotel be like?

There are some resting places you don't mind arriving at in the dark. City hotels bathed in fluorescent street lights; luxury resorts glistening like burnished gold on the horizon; even, I recall, a Formula One hotel on the industrial outskirts of Lille, a city in northern France, did not inspire much trepidation thanks to rows of spotlights lining the path up to the entrance, guiding prospective residents in like aircraft to a runway.

Dana, a village on the edge of a nature reserve in Jordan, is a place that would have made sense to arrive in daylight. Heading along the road winding down to the village was pitch black. The car headlights cut up the gloom, lighting up the road and fringes of stones and rubble on either side, but in truth it felt like descending into a jar of treacle.

These kinds of situations tend to take a sinister bent more quickly when you have children. Astrid, my 19-month old daughter, was sat in the back of the car warbling happily to herself, yet I was racked with worry. What would the hotel be like? Would the room be comfortable and safe? Would there even be a room?

We bumped down the pot-holed road in to the village, past frisky dogs and lolling cats and a couple clad in high-tech walking clothes, to park next to a tourist coach bristling with air-conditioning, televisions, toilets and fridges. It was the most pristine thing in sight, and looked out of place and bulging, grotesque almost, next to the ragged stone buildings of the Dana Hotel.

People were milling about in the courtyard. One of them was the owner, who told us that his hotel was full. We were about to head down to one of the other handful of hotels in the village when someone else stopped us: it turned out there was a room after all; its occupant had decided to sleep on a mattress outside to be "under the stars".

The room was in an outbuilding about a five-minute walk from the reception. It had a decorated metal door, white walls and beds with steel frames - pleasant enough, but nothing could disguise the fact that it was, in essence, a shed. We slammed the steel door shut. It must only have been open for a few seconds, but even in that short time mosquitoes had swarmed through the nook. I picked up a magazine and started trying to swat them against the wall. Astrid found a book in one of the bags and followed suit. She kept on banging it against the plaster with glee. After half an hour of mosquito killing we curled up under the rough woollen blankets and went to sleep.

We woke at dawn refreshed and surprisingly unbitten. We walked to the edge of the village and looked out over the vast plain several hundred metres below. The village, it turned out, was perched on the edge of a cliff. Also, it wasn't teeming with tourists - the bus had been hired by a six-person BBC film crew shooting a documentary about mountain biking in Jordan.

The fears and worries of arriving in the darkness had evaporated long ago but the surprises continued until well past breakfast.